World Health Organization Officially Recognizes Video Gaming Disorder

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released the eleventh edition of their Internal Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) which outlines “diagnostic health information.” Within the document there are twenty-six sections, each with numerous subsections with related diseases or disorders listed. A new – and possibly somewhat surprising – condition can be found inder “disorders due to addictive behaviors.” The new affliction? “Gaming Disorder.”

According to the WHO, “gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior, which may be online or offline.” The WHO lists three ways of determining whether or not a person has gaming disorder. They are:

  • Impaired Control over gaming.
  • Increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming precedence over other life interests and daily activities.
  • Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

The WHO states that the behavior must be significant enough to impair “personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” However, the WHO also says that the behavior may not be continuous but can happen periodically as well. In order to make a proper diagnosis, the WHO says a twelve-month period is necessary but could be less depending on the severity of the condition.

While the WHO does not provide a lot of specifics about gaming disorders, documenting it in the ICD-11 means that there is now a global standard. Within the ICD-11 there is also “Hazardous gaming.” Which differs from gaming disorder in that the pattern of gaming increases “risk of harmful physical or mental health consequences,” and “the pattern of gaming often persists in spite of awareness of increased risk of harm to the individual or to others.”

Some video game companies have developed systems intended to get people more active during gaming. The Wii, Nintendo’s follow up to the GameCube, was designed to be motion controlled with games such as Wii Sports, which had games such as tennis and boxing that could be played using the remotes. Between games, the console would occasionally prompt people to put the game down and go outside or take a break. Similar models came out as extensions for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, where motion was needed to play certain games.

These consoles certainly provided the options for reducing inactivity during video games, but they did little to curb traditional gaming practices, not only on consoles but also on computers. However, a team of psychologists published an article in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions warning the WHO to “err on the side of caution” in regard to developing a global standard for what some argue is not really a disorder.

They believe that while formalizing gaming disorder can be beneficial, that there is not enough current evidence or research to justify recognition. The authors worry this could lead to an “abuse of diagnoses” because of the lack of hard research. Another concern is that doctors may try and treat gaming disorder instead of looking for underlying issues such as depression and anxiety, which may be driving patients’ gaming habits.

Debate exists as to whether or not videogames are an “escape” from anxiety and depression or if they are the cause of them. The University of California Davis (UC Davis) tested a reminder messaging system for games that are aimed to treat depression. The reminders were “carefully designed” but helped subjects “feel like they can control their depression.”

Other studies show the opposite. In a report from the Journal of Health Psychology, a study of 130.000 gamers between 12 and 88 years old as well as the result of fifty studies done involving videogame addiction, showed that there were “adverse health implications regarding the impact of problematic gaming behavior on depression…” While the evidence remains subject for debate, this announcement by the WHO could see more diagnoses of gaming disorder in the near future. It could also fuel debate around certain aspects of video games that are seen as akin to gambling, such as “loot boxes,” in which players can spend real money for the chance to win a rare in-game item.

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